Friday Night: Jade Simmons at Jet Lounge
When concert pianist Jade Simmons first learned that her computer wouldn't latch onto Jet Lounge's sound system Friday night, thereby ruining her chance to introduce to the audience her experimentation in partnering classical songs with hip-hop beats, she shrugged it off, immediately launching into an emotional rendition of Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp Minor.
Her figure was hunched over the piano like a concentrating surgeon, and her fingers sliced into the keys like soft cheese. By the time the song was over, she was rocking back and forth, eyes closed, lost in the sounds of the "old dead Russian guy."
"Sound guy, where are you?" she asked into the microphone, still rocking and hoping that, by this time, he had fixed the glitch.
When Sound Guy still hadn't appeared minutes later, she grew restless, entering into her own groovy arrangement of the classic in the interim.
"Come on, Sound Guy," she pleaded.
As he finally snaked his way toward the stage, informing Simmons that no, the CDs she provided for her performance wouldn't play, the pianist did what she does best -- besides playing the piano, of course -- she improvised.
"We're having a few technical difficulties," she announced, "but I'm going to roll with it, 'cause that's just how I rock," to which the eager audience erupted in a fit of cheers and claps.
It's no surprise that Simmons was able to bounce back so quickly; she is a master of improvisation, pinning jazz riffs and hip-hop beats onto classical songs, such as a Mozart sonata -- "one of the first pieces I played as a little girl," she said.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at Jet Lounge. Simmons didn't allow a few technical upsets to ruin her piano-meets-electronic performance; she played on.
Interestingly, Jade's opening acts had no such sound problems. We arrived just in time for one-man band Riverlin's six-song set of lazy-afternoon ditties, like "The Beer Song," in which he sang, "Do you want to go out for a beer with me?"
Rett Lea's slightly off-key charms followed. The highlight was a song aptly named "The Pie Song," which he said was inspired by one day's sudden desire for pie. The song started innocently enough, however, with Lea's repeated chants of "Come and taste my pie" along with other suggestive phrases, the song soon became a (not-so) melodic double entendre.
After Rachmaninoff, Simmons played the first movement of Mozart's Sonata in F Major -- both classical and contemporary versions. Her initial plan out the window, she then opted to play a Sean Paul/Michael Myers "Sean Michaels" mash-up that sounded in some places like dancehall and in others, like Friday the 13th theme music.
The song was appropriate; though Simmons put on a happy face, playing to the audience with funny commentary between songs, those standing close to the stage could just make out a letdown in her eyes.
Simmons, 34, was born and raised in Charleston, S.C., educated at Northwestern, first runner-up at the 2000 Miss America pageant, artist-in-residence at the University of Chicago and more before settling in Houston, earning an MA from Rice University and becoming the recipient of multiple awards by yours truly.
In an earlier interview with the artist, she spoke of how excited she was to introduce the pairing of hip-hop beats with alternate arrangements of classical music for her Houston audience.
"I've grown as an artist, and I have an audience that is willing to try new things with me," Simmons said.